Flashback 2015: Turnbull defeats Abbott in a leadership spill
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Flashback 2015: Turnbull defeats Abbott in a leadership spill

Tony Abbott might consider today to be a form of political karma. It's been three years since Malcolm Turnbull defeated Abbott in a leadership spill to become prime minister.

The Age looks back at the events leading to Abbott's demise with this article from the archives.

First published in The Age on September 16, 2015

The long road to a quick demise

Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop hold their first press conference after winning the leadership ballot on Monday night.

Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop hold their first press conference after winning the leadership ballot on Monday night. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

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At 9am on Monday, Tony Abbott told reporters in Adelaide that he was "not going to get caught up in Canberra gossip. I'm not going to play Canberra games".

His government would run until the middle of next year, he declared, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his junior Infrastructure Minister, Jamie Briggs, and South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill.

Twelve hours later he was a dead man politically, struck down by the very Canberra games he decried.

Malcolm Turnbull is escorted by his main backers to the leadership ballot, September 2015.

Malcolm Turnbull is escorted by his main backers to the leadership ballot, September 2015.Credit:Archives

The series of events that led to the political assassination of another prime minister - the fifth Australian PM in a little over five years - and the elevation of Malcolm Turnbull had been fomenting for months.

Leaks, backgrounding, political missteps and misjudgements had dogged the government since the February spill motion.

It was over the weekend, according an insider familiar with how events crystallised, when both Mr Turnbull and Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop attended the Sydney Dance Company's annual Dance Noir party, that the final decision was taken to topple Mr Abbott.

"The critical thing was when Julie Bishop decided in the last few days enough was enough. That was the pivotal moment," said the insider.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott arrives for the leadership ballot, September 2015.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott arrives for the leadership ballot, September 2015.Credit:Andrew Meares

"Malcolm was exploring where thing were going. There were a lot of conversations with Julie. It was decided that there had to be a change and it was best to do it now."

By the time Mr Turnbull and Ms Bishop arrived on Saturday night at the Dance Noir soiree, a highlight on the Sydney social scene, it is likely Mr Turnbull was close to resolving to challenge on Monday.

Few there would have realised. The now leader and deputy leader of the Liberal Party kept the chat light and breezy, although it was noted the pair did not pose for photos together.

Conversations had been taking place between MPs, from the cabinet to the backbench, dismayed by the direction and capacity of the government to sell its economic message.

Tony Abbott and  Malcolm Turnbull depart at the end of Question Time, just before the leadership ballot was called.

Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull depart at the end of Question Time, just before the leadership ballot was called.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

On Monday morning, the chatter went into overdrive and events escalated quickly. A final decision was taken.

Mr Turnbull, Ms Bishop and key supporters of the putsch met.

Said one player: "Discussions took place through the day, but it wasn't a sequential thing. Before she [Ms Bishop] walked in his [Mr Abbott's] door it is not possible to provide a tick-tock." That conversation took place just after noon.

After question time, about 3.15pm, Mr Turnbull spoke to Mr Abbott in his office and flagged a challenge.

Malcolm Turnbull during question time, the day after he became prime minister.

Malcolm Turnbull during question time, the day after he became prime minister. Credit:Andrew Meares

The conversation was less civil than that with Ms Bishop.

At 4pm, Mr Turnbull outlined his reasons for his move on Mr Abbott.

The Prime Minister's praetorian guard - cabinet ministers Eric Abetz, Kevin Andrews and Mathias Cormann - headed to his office to start counting numbers. Backbenchers were called in to the PM's office to test their support. Unlike February, it did not look good.

Mr Abbott's decision to bring on the vote on Monday evening, rather than Tuesday morning, made little difference to the plan to dethrone him, or to the result.

Prime Minister Abbott responds to Malcolm Turnbull's leadership challenge, September 2015.

Prime Minister Abbott responds to Malcolm Turnbull's leadership challenge, September 2015.Credit:Andrew Meares

As he entered the party room at 9pm, Mr Turnbull was flanked by key lieutenants Wyatt Roy, Scott Ryan, Mitch Fifield, Peter Hendy, Arthur Sinodinos and Mal Brough.

Other ministers including Christopher Pyne, George Brandis, Simon Birmingham, Marise Payne and Stuart Robert are also said to have switched support to Mr Turnbull.

Soon after, at 9.15pm, Mr Abbott walked into the meeting flanked by more than 20 MPs including Mathias Cormann, Josh Frydenberg, Natasha Griggs, Karen McNamara, Linda Reynolds, Peter Dutton, Cory Bernardi and Zed Seselja.

Ms Bishop and Mr Pyne entered alone, faces tightly drawn.

In the party room as the vote was being taken, the mood was tense.

By 9.50pm, the meeting was over and Mr Turnbull had won the ballot 54 votes to Mr Abbott's 44 votes.

With that, it was done, and Australia had its 29th prime minister.